Cleopatra Blues 2020
Cross-generational posse of melody-layers joins the virtual meeting with a legend.
Theoretically, the idea of adding new parts to old masters’ tapes should not work, and usually it doesn’t – because the whole point of such embellishments is to allow modern artists to shine, or rather outshine, the original performer, with the enhancements’ value quite dubious – yet what guest players do here, on the devil’s dozen of Junior Wells’ recordings, shows the utmost respect for one of the blues’ greats. The fact that almost all of those paying homage to him operate six strings, while he was a harpist as well as a singer, should help “Blues Brothers” succeed too, the new solos working for the song, not for the guitarist, and nobody trying neither to replicate Buddy Guy, whose licks got replaced on a few numbers, nor reinvent a piece like Rory Gallagher did with “Messin’ With The Kid” five decades ago. The results of this approach feel unexpectedly nice now.
Handling the aforementioned perennial, Tyler Bryant lets fly a flurry of notes which ring akin to a bell and complement Well’s roar with a lot of taste, whereas Joe Louis Walker applies a semi-acoustic, twangy filigree to “Hoodoo Man Blues” and supplies a vibrant shuffle for “Snatch It Back And Hold It” that’s given a polish by James Montgomery’s harmonica – a fantastic feature on many a track on offer. There’s a great balance between Popa Chubby’s freshly cut take on “You Don’t Care” and Junior’s former accompanist Albert Castiglia’s faithful frills on the fun-infected “Baby, Scratch My Back”; but opener “Blues Hit Big Town” and its follow-up “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” both bare a harder edge courtesy of, respectively, Colin James and Pat Travers, their riffs offsetting booming vocals. Further on, Harvey Mandel briefly pours liquid fire all over “When The Cat’s Gone The Mice Play” before “Lovey Dovey Lovey One” is fueled by Eric Gales’ fluid figures, and Kirk Fletcher fills “You Gotta Love Her With A Feeling” with reserved emotional vigor.
Still, it’s Well’s peer Guitar Shorty who fully inhabits “Two-Headed Woman” thanks to effects-devoid stinging of his axe, and it’s Bernard Allison who best nails “It’s A Man Down There” due to appropriate sharpness of tone. But be it veterans or less seasoned guests, there’s enviable fraternity on display that defies all the perceivable deficiencies of the idea of bringing late artists to life in an unnatural way: “Blues Brothers” is a memory come alive.